Spinal fusion is a surgical procedure, a “welding” process, used to correct problems with the small bones of the spine (vertebrae). The idea behind spinal fusion surgery is to fuse together the vertebrae so they could heal into a solid bone.
Sounds good, right (apart from the “welding” thing. Ouch.)?
But the numbers and statistics related to the success rate and risks are so horrendous, that I simply can’t understand why spinal fusion is even offered to the millions suffering from low back pain.
Spinal Fusion Surgery Statistics
- 13% of patients will be back in the hospital within 30 days.
- 20% will need another surgery within 10 years.
- Risk of stroke is double that of decompression surgery.
- Risk of death is double that of decompression surgery (data from losethebackpain.com)
The Risks of Spinal Fusion Surgery
These are only the most common risks of this surgery; I thought I would spare you the less common ones (to prevent an anxiety attack):
1. Pain getting worse – Prescription drugs dependency
2. Nerve damage
3. Blood clots
5. Death during surgery
And all of this for a procedure shown to be USELESS (at best) by many studies!
A few months ago, a new study published in Spine compared the success rate of lumbar fusion surgery with nonsurgical treatments using Ohio workers’ compensation data.
These were the results:
After 2 years, 11% of people under going spinal fusion were permanently disabled, comparing to 2% not having surgery.
36% of surgeries resulted with surgery complications, reoperation rate was 27% and only 26% returned to work, compared to 67% of the people NOT having surgery.
What About the Cost?
I know that money is less of a concern when you have agonizing pain in your back, but spinal fusions cost a fortune (an average bill of $80,000), even if you are covered by insurance.
That money won’t ever come back, even if the surgery doesn’t work, or worse – Causes you more damage than you started out with.
The Bloomberg website interviewed Sohail Mirza, a spine surgeon who chairs the Department of Orthopedics at Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, New Hampshire.
This is what he said about spinal fusions:
“It’s amazing how much evidence there is that fusions don’t work, yet surgeons do them anyway… The only one who isn’t benefiting from the equation is the patient.”
Who IS Benefiting From Spinal Fusion Surgeries?
I’ll let you answer this one yourself, just look at the numbers:
1. The number of fusions at U.S. hospitals doubled to 413,000 between 2002 and 2008, generating $34 billion in bills, data from the federal Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project show.
2. Another beneficiary was Medtronic Inc., which makes products for spinal surgery, including Infuse, a bone-growing material widely used in fusions. Infuse accounted for $17,575 of Abbott Northwestern’s charges, Hehn’s medical bills and insurance records show. Infuse, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2002, had sales of $840 million last year.
3. Spine surgeons have become the best paid doctors in the U.S. Their average annual salary is $806,000, more than three times the earnings of a pediatrician, according to the American Medical Group Association, a trade organization for doctor practices.(source is here)
What Are The Alternatives for Spinal Fusion Surgery?
In my personal opinion, any kind of surgery should be a last resort, something to turn to when everything else has failed.
The alternatives for spinal surgery depend on the underlying cause for your lower back pain. See these resources for effective, natural and safe treatments for your condition:
Degenerative Disc Disease Alternatives
Herniated Disc in Lower Back Alternatives
Spinal Decompression at Home Treatment
What about you? Do you still think that surgery is your best and only option?
To your health & happiness,
7 thoughts on “Spinal Fusion Surgery: The Shocking Truth”
Waiting for a surgery date. Two surgeons are necessary. A date is taking a little longer to get a date schedule same time for 2 surgeries.I had a bad fall 4 years ago. I was walking on a sidewalk and came upon a rubber mat. Looked down when I stepped and all of a sudden I felt something with my back foot. The top of my back foot was completely under mat between 2 flaps that were up. I fell from a straight up position to hard packed dirt and a sidewalk that had no dirt on the side. I had a hairline fracture on the tibia and torn meniscus in the knee. No cast on fracture and with wobbling was torn the meniscus in another knee. Had multiple fractures in lower left ribs which included the cartilage next to the spine. I felt something that was a little strange but my thoughts were the ribs. It took a year for cartilage to heal. I was in a wheelchair for 5 1/2 months, Since I had fallen my lower spine pain was so severe I was miserable At one point having to lift my hips up to move over to edge of the bed to get up. I was having phantom pain in the low spine. As my knees. Went to my orthopedic doctor and last year told me I needed a big surgery that things have been getting worse last 2 years. I have cried and still cry since the day I fell. Scoliosis has formed making 2 areas stick out more than the whole spine. I had medical people say “Big”. “Do you really want this surgery” Doctor- it will be dangerous not to have the surgery. Three people walk in the patient room, Student, nurse, and surgeon. Nurse never does and hell, the look on their faces! Surgeon wiggles his finger to come up to him in front of the MRI and said I want you to make another appointment and bring your husband. I thought hell no! Did research and found a top neurosurgeon over all the neurosurgeons and is Nationally known and professor, His appointment last of the day. Waited forever! He came in introduced himself and apologize for time. He said he was studying my Test. He walk over to MRI on screen, Pointing toward down he said I think you have a fracture in there. Cat scan with smaller slices showed a facet had fracture off. Boy, it left some ragged ends!! This has caused severe numerous problems. The doctor said I should have had surgery day I fell. A lot of screaming. crying and complaining and no one was listening!!! So much Pain. Pain medicine didn’t work well most of the time. Mornings have been hell for this length of time. Still is, really bad. I miss bad fracture and no one listens. I am faced with 2 major surgeries with 2 surgeons. One will be doing all the cutting. One large cut in front for 2 fusions and support to the spine. ICU then 2 days later I will lay on that surgical belly and have 1 more fusion. Eight screws, 3 rods,2 on spine and 1 through the iliac through hips. Scoliosis moved over cutting a V in 2 places. I am going to go in for another appointment with more questions. Will the injured area require fixed? IDK. God will be with me no doubt. I want to just get it done so I can go on. My life isn’t much last 4 years Accident 58 Y, O. and just turned 63. Good years gone. Yes, it can be very depressing especially with horrible sickening pain with the reminder of what I am facing and healing time. Thank you if you read this through. Give me a hi if you did. Thanks.
Thank you for sharing your story with me. My prayers are with you, and I’m sure your nightmare is about to be over.
Yes! You’re absolutely correct from my 30 years of research. I lead a support and therapy group for pain patients in Boulder, CO and collaborate with many physicians.
What do you think of the work of John Sarno MD and his successors, Howard Schubiner MD and David Hanscom MD?
And what is your discipline, Stephanie? PT?
Charles Horowitz, Ph.D.
What a load of crap! This site is just scaring people out of a very useful surgery- that has provided me with much pain RELIEF after the surgery. Whoever wrote this should listen to real stories. Id like to see the names of 5 people who have died during the surgery. Unbelievable!
Just to offer another side of the story… I have managed a natural health clinic for a couple of years, and believe very much in natural medicine, health, nutrition and fitness. I am a 23 year old female and had a spinal fusion at the age of 14. I was deteriorating closer and closer to being paralyzed and was pushed ahead of a 2 year waiting list for surgery under a month after diagnosis. Today I am fitter and healthier than many of my peers. I am strong, keep good weight and have very rare back pain. Incredibly, my nerve damage has reversed in most parameters which doctors never expected.
I know not everyone is as fortunate as I am in recovering. I don’t endorse surgery to anyone, but I don’t think it’s right to paint surgery as being a money making scheme to slowly kill people off. It is an option that needs to be weighed carefully -pros and cons – because I know I certainly enjoy the fact that I can feel my toes and go to the toilet like a normal person 🙂
Thank you for your input and for sharing your positive experience, I’m glad it worked out for you!:)
Surgery has a very limited role in the treatment of back
pain. Although it is probably offered to patients more often than is
necessary (this is, after all, how surgeons make their living), there are a few
good reasons to have surgery. A small number of surgeons think the only
way to cure a medical condition is with cold, hard steel. There are also
some surgeons whose only interest in the patient is in the fee they collect;
they collect more for doing surgery than for talking patients out of
surgery. Honest, ethical surgeons give the patient options and honest
opinions. The problem may be in figuring out who is being honest and who
Most insurance companies, especially workers compensation companies, would
prefer not to pay for surgery, or long term rehabilitation instead of, or
following, surgery. The less they pay out for procedures or physical
therapy, the more profit they make. Stock holders like that; patients
don’t. And if insurance companies can find a way to no longer be the
financially responsible party, all the better.
Keeping the above two paragraphs in mind, some times surgery is a
necessity. Statistically, necessary surgery probably falls in the range
of 5% of cases. In another 5% of cases surgery may be appropriate because
it saves the patient healing time and time off work, even if it does not affect
the eventual overall outcome. This means that in 90+% of back pain
cases, surgery is not needed! All surgery has the potential for
complications, from pain to numbness to paralysis to death. Think hard
about your choices.
In general, a patient needs surgery
when surgery can save his life, repair an injury the patient’s body cannot, or
shorten significantly the recovery from an injury or disease. When it
comes to the lower back, there are five absolute indications for
surgery, but several elective reasons. The absolute indications for
surgery are the following:
1. Cauda equina or conus medullaris syndrome.
These situations happen when there is a very large central herniated disc that compresses
severely the nerves in the lower spinal cord. Without surgery, the
compression would lead to eventual loss of function of those nerves, paralysis
of muscles, and/or loss of sensation.
2. Intractable pain, i.e. unremitting, severe pain.
3. Progressive neurological deficit, loss of
sensation, proprioception, muscle control, etc.
4. New incontinence or retention, bowel or bladder.
5. Hemorrhage into the spinal cord.
The relative indications generally center on the
relief of discomfort (less than intractable) and the shortening of recovery
time from various problems: herniated disk, compression fractures, etc.
There are also several types of surgery: open, micro, and minimally
invasive. Open takes less time, usually. The surgeon has a better
view of the surgical field, but more structures are damaged and recovery is
longer. Micro surgery takes longer; the field of view is smaller, but
fewer structures are damaged and recovery is shorter. Minimally invasive
surgery, in general, takes the longest; is the most difficult; has the
narrowest field of view, but the shortest recovery time. There are
trade-offs. Get the surgeon to explain them all to you. If he can’t
or won’t, find another surgeon.
If someone uses the words, laser surgery, he is trying to impress
you. Nothing more. Lasers have their place in surgery — usually
cauterizing blood vessels. Very little surgery is done with a
laser. A laser produces too much heat. Laser is a buzz word
only. And the person using it is a salesman first — surgeon
second. He wants your money; he’s not concerned with your best interests.
Bill Yancey, MD